Christian Leaders Urge Fundamental Immigration Reform
Christian leaders representing the breadth of Christian churches and denominations in theUnited Statesissued a strong and urgent call February 1 for fundamental immigration reform. The annual meeting of Christian Churches Together (CCT) released this statement at the close of their four-day gathering inAustin,Texas. Bishop Joe S. Vasquez ofAustinhosted the meeting and presided over the opening worship service at Saint Mary’s Cathedral.
The CCT meeting, planned a year ago, focused on the challenge of immigration reform, hearing from a variety of immigrants and experts on immigration issues. Its statement comes as the nation’s political leadership has turned its attention to this challenge. The CCT leaders said they would engage this debate “as followers of Jesus Christ who commanded us to welcome the stranger.”
“Each day in our congregations and communities, we bear witness to the effects of a system that continues the separation of families and the exploitation, abuse, and deaths of migrants. This suffering must end,” the statement said.
The group, representing leadership from Catholic, Evangelical/Pentecostal, Historic Protestant, Orthodox, and Historic Black churches, agreed on these unified principles:
- An earned path to citizenship for the 11 million people in theUnited Stateswithout authorization.
- The priority of family reunification in any immigration reform.
- Protecting the integrity of our borders and protecting due process for immigrants and their families.
- Improving refugee protection laws and asylum laws.
- Reviewing international economic policies to address the root causes of unauthorized immigration.
During the course of the gathering, the group heard from immigration advocates from Evangelical organizations such as World Relief, immigration policy experts at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), legislative advocates serving major Protestant denominations and leaders from the Hispanic Christian community, among others. Bishop Daniel Flores ofBrownsville,Texasshared his reflections on immigration in a presentation entitled, “The Immigration Experience at the Border.”
The statement issued today represents the broadest coalition of Christian denominations and groups to address together the urgency of fundamental immigration reform. It will be followed by advocacy to members of Congress from the membership of denominations and groups represented at theAustinmeeting.
The full statement is posted on the website of Christian Churches Together in English (http://christianchurchestogether.org/cct-call-the-churches-and-elected-leaders-to-act-on-immigration-reform-now/) and in Spanish (http://christianchurchestogether.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Declaracion-sobre-Reforma-Migratoria.pdf).
At its plenary meeting in November 2004, the USCCB voted to participate in Christian Churches Together in theUSA, an ecumenical forum that brings together representatives from most of the major Christian denominations in the country. This was the first time that the Catholic Church in theUnited Statesbecame a partner in such a national body, although Catholic churches in about 70 other countries belong to national councils of churches or similar bodies. Bishop Denis Madden, auxiliary bishop in Baltimore and chairman of the USCCB Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, serves as the Catholic President of CCT, and headed a twelve-member USCCB delegation to the 2013 meeting.
Immigrant, Asian and Latino Leaders React to House Immigration Hearing
This week, the House Judiciary Committee held this year’s first hearing on immigration – a chance to put forward immigration solutions that would strengthen our country. What’s at stake in this debate has been clearly laid out by President Obama and the bipartisan group of Senators – citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans. While some in the House GOP expressed a more welcoming tone towards legalization during the hearing, the focus on continuing to ramp up enforcement and green cards targeting only hi-tech employers, shows the House has yet to digest the lesson from last November that there is both broad support and urgency to move from pandering to solutions to align our immigration policy with our country’s values.
On a press call, Latino leaders and immigrant advocates from across the country provided their reactions and thoughts about how the hearing dealt with border and interior enforcement, family immigration and E-verify.
Clarissa Martinez de Castro, Director, Immigration and National Campaigns, National Council of La Raza, opened the call by saying, “Latino voters generated a game-changing moment in the immigration debate last November, opening the opportunity for Congress to finally reach the solution our country longs for, and writing the obituary for the fantasy of self-deportation. The President and a bipartisan Senate blueprint have confirmed that legalization and a roadmap to citizenship are an essential part of solving this issue, and we hope the House will soon join the quest for real solutions. As for today’s hearing, sadly some members are still focused on seeding division and mischaracterizing the issues. But we know there are enough members of Congress who understand the moral, economic, and political imperative of getting this done, and will lead their colleagues to a solution.”
Mee Moua, President and Executive Director,Asian American JusticeCenter, added “The family immigration system is a critical part of our immigration system and a very important issue to the Asian American community. Currently, our broken system disproportionately harms Asian American families, resulting in massive backlogs and heartache. Our American values demand a commonsense immigration system that keeps all families together, which will strengthen our economy and bolster our democracy. Now is the time for Congress to come together and pass commonsense immigration reform.”
According to Fernando Garcia, Executive Director, Border Network for Human Rights, “It’s very interesting to us on the border that the only people talking about border security at today’s hearing were politicians. While the panel experts wanted to talk about solutions, some politicians would rather talk about the ‘boogie man’ of border security. This shows how out of touch the committee is with the reality of the border. We are living under years of massive buildup of enforcement on the border. And while these politicians want to talk border security, they seem unwilling and unable to talk about the consequences of it. These consequences include civil and human rights violations in our communities, migrant deaths and families torn apart. Rep. Conyers said he would like the committee to visit the border and we think they should come on down and learn the truth before proposing politically-motivated ideas that have real life and death consequences for our community.”
Natally Cruz, an Arizonan whose family has been separated by increased enforcement efforts in recent years, shared her very personal story on today’s call: “I am an undocumented mother; I have a seven-year-old and I have several family members who’ve been deported. I have nephews who cry for their parents who’ve been deported. It’s something that happens every day, not only to my family, but others in the US… we call America home and we are raising our families here, but today’s hearing focuses too much on enforcement and not enough on citizenship.”
Emily Tulli, Policy Attorney,NationalImmigrationLawCenter, added, “Congress has an opportunity to take away employers’ perverse incentives to subvert labor law by simply protecting an immigrant workers’ right to organize. They should make these protections, both to workers while they’re on the job and to workers who undergo electronic verification upon hiring, a central component of any immigration reform bill.”
“We believe that everyone deserves the opportunity to achieve the American dream no matter how humble their beginnings are, and today’s debate that pits high skilled vs. low skilled labor against one another runs contrary to the values we represent as a nation. We must recognize all laborers in this debate and as contributors to our economy,” Sarahi Uribe, National Campaign Coordinator, National Day Laborer Organizing Network.
Today’s hearing marked the first immigration discussion of the 113thCongress. The hearing comes on the heels of two immigration reform policy proposals, one from the Senate, and another from President Obama. Today, advocates reiterated their call for Congress to create a roadmap to citizenship for the 11 million American-in-waiting.
- Link to recording of today’s call: http://act.americasvoiceonline.org/page/-/americasvoice/audio/IMMIGRATION%20020513.mp3
Farmers May Have to Compete for Shrinking Agricultural Labor Workforce
Agriculture is unlike most other key sectors of the North American economy in that its comparative advantage has rested on having access to abundant labor willing to do the work instead of on the accumulation of education and formal credentials. Agricultural labor trends are evolving, however, raising labor supply questions for theUnited States,MexicoandCentral America.
For example,Mexico, which is still the largest supplier of hired labor toU.S.farms, is in the transitional phase of being both farm labor exporter and importer, increasingly relying on workers fromGuatemalaas its own agricultural workforce shrinks. And with the production of labor-intensive crops expanding inMexicoand the Northern Triangle (El Salvador,GuatemalaandHonduras) as agricultural jobs become less attractive throughout the region, there could be a growing tension between labor supply and demand.
In Ripe with Change: Evolving Farm Labor Markets in the United States, Mexico, and Central America, economists Philip Martin and J. Edward Taylor of the University of California, Davis examine the region’s farm labor market dynamics. The report focuses on changes in the volume and composition of production, the supermarket revolution in Latin America, as well as on trends in training and education, and their implications for workers and migration. (The Spanish-language report brief can be found here.)
While the share of the total workforce employed in agriculture is high inMexicoand Central America relative to theUnited States, it is falling fast. AcrossMexicoandCentral America, educational attainment is increasing and incomes are rising — though these advances and demographic trends are evolving at different speeds in each country, the report finds.MexicoandEl Salvadorare seeing their populations age and total population growth slowdown. In contrast, birth rates remain high inGuatemalaandHonduras.
“There is evidence that the supply of farm labor in the region is decreasing and that, in the future, farmers throughout the region will find themselves competing for a dwindling number of local farm workers,” Martin and Taylor write.
Said Migration Policy Institute (MPI) President Demetrios G. Papademetriou: “This has key implications not only for theUnited States, which relies significantly on a foreign agricultural labor workforce, but also for the region. Current labor and immigration policies may not ensure a continuous supply of labor toU.S.farms, possibly causing farmers to have to look further afield for workers, and/or pay higher wages and/or turn to labor-saving mechanization in selected crops.”
The agriculture sector report is the latest research from the Regional Migration Study Group, a partnership between MPI and the Latin American Program/Mexico Institute of theWoodrowWilsonInternationalCenterfor Scholars. The Study Group, co-chaired by former Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo, formerUSSecretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez and former Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein, is a high-level initiative that in March will propose new collaborative approaches to migration, competitiveness and human-capital development for theUnited States, Central America andMexico.
A primary goal of the Study Group is to develop and promote a longer-term vision of how to build a stronger economic and social foundation by enhancing the region’s human-capital infrastructure. Building up human capital should foster better economic opportunities for the region’s citizens, creating an engine for growth in each country and strengthening regional competitiveness. “Over time, success in this regard will mitigate today’s concerns about the scope and ‘quality’ of regional migration, and will also set the stage for future regional migration to be more of a genuine choice, rather than a necessity,” Papademetriou said.
MPI recently published a paper examining the region’s manufacturing sector, and next week will publish a report on the region’s health care sector, followed by one on the transportation and logistics sector. The research and more on the Study Group’s mission and membership can be read at www.migrationpolicy.org/regionalstudygroup.